Is The Term ‘NSFW’ Actually Quite Toxic?

My initial research led me to a meme that read, “If you work in a sex shop, is it still NSFW?” Well played, meme, well played! 

not suitable for work toxic term

But actually, the term ‘NSFW’ has been flung around for a good few years now. And if you haven’t seen it yet (or searched to find out its meaning), are you even using the Internet right?

More importantly, is this article (and website) NSFW? Hmm…

Jokes aside, let’s indulge in everything that’s NSFW… in a SFW kind of manner. And if all of these acronyms are confusing the heck out of you, you’ll get your ‘ah-ha!’ moment super soon.

What Does NSFW Mean?

NSFW means “Not Suitable for Work” or “Not Safe for Work”. It’s a term that’s used as a kind of warning for content that’s not suitable for viewing in public spaces, like the workplace (but equally as relevant for places such as public transport, at the supermarket, in front of children, etc. etc.). 

The term is said to have been born in 2000, by the website Fark. Since, it’s been popping up left, right and centre on websites and emails as a means to prevent you from any embarrassment or even trouble.

What Kind of Content is NSFW?

Well, the most obvious NSFW content would be pornography. But there are a slew of other sites, like certain sub-Reddits, discussion forums, and other video content on various platforms that come with the label “NSFW”. People often associate the acronym with sexual content, but that isn’t always so…

For example, looking at or sharing content at work or with friends and family that you deem funny could cause more harm than good. It could possibly marginalise, threaten, or discriminate. And as with everything in life, we all have our own taste, and that includes what we consider to be good ol’ fashion fun or humour.

Then again, when it comes to sending NSFW links and emails to work email addresses, aren’t we actually negating the very meaning of NSFW? Why email someone to their work address with a label that reads ‘NSFW’? Is it simply a case of no common sense?

But then let’s go back to the aforementioned meme. What if you work in a place where NSFW doesn’t really apply? Like sending a sex toy meme to someone who works at a sex toy store

And how do things work nowadays with so many people working from home? In the digital age, does NSFW really mean anything anymore? That’s where the sender’s discretion comes in…

Let’s look at the example above: a sex toy meme to a sex toy company is almost 100 percent of the time, SFW (Safe for Work). Discretion however is important when it comes to the type of images and language used in the NSFW content. Just because one works in a sex shop, doesn’t mean they’re looking to be bombarded with inappropriate imagery or foul language. 

In another example, because much of the world has been working from home of late, NSFW takes on a whole different meaning. It’s more so about: who’s around you, are your children or partners nearby, do you have friends over etc. An interesting evolution!

The Evolution of the Term ‘NSFW’

Physical space aside, we’ve seen the term ‘NSFW’ transform in the last few years from a kind of red flag warning to an almost titillating teaser. 

Today, those who come across the acronym, may not tell themselves that the content they’re about to see is actually NSFW, but instead are more inclined to think, “Ohh, this content has something saucy or racy, let’s see what it is”. NSFW has thus almost become a clickbait term used to lure people in… and it’s working.

On the other side of the spectrum, is using the term ‘NSFW’ when it comes to sexual content actually quite toxic?

NSFW: A Toxic Acronym?

It’s no secret that anyone with a working Internet connection and a computer/smartphone/tablet can view porn or other sexual content with absolute ease. Sex sells, and this has been, and will continue to be, the forefront of marketing. 

So what happens when a teen stumbles across nudity that comes with the warning ‘NSFW’? Within reason, of course, if an impressionable teenager is led to believe that nudity or tasteful erotica is NSFW, it may actually reinforce toxic notions of sex as inherently bad or dangerous.

And what about sex workers? Using the term ‘NSFW’ directly implies that sex and work are mututally exclusive. But what about the reality for some: sex is work? Doesn’t that place a harmful label on them, even though they’re constantly having to defend the legitimacy of their work? 

And, as the aforementioned meme read, it’s simply untrue to say that sex and work never mix. My job, for example, entails tons of research which includes text, images, videos, and sometimes even a gander at PornHub. NSFW? This is my work.

NSFW: A Final Word

It’s safe to say that both sides of the coin have been explored. And while NSFW is still ‘a thing’ I think that slapping it onto any piece of content for the sake of clickbait or malice is inappropriate. 

I do however believe that everything is circumstantial, and that taking into account one’s personal situation, the relationship you have with the one you’re emailing or sending links to, and other factors play a more important role. 

I say, let’s all proceed with caution, and be more mindful of the words we’re using and things we’re sharing so that NSFW can actually hold a meaning that’s true as opposed to a marketing ploy for clicks.